Poverty and Inclusion in Early Years Education by Mark Cronin, Karen Argent and Chris Collett.

“A timely, relevant, accessible and essential read for anyone who cares about children”

The Grenfell tower fire shed a terrible burning light on the huge inequality that exists within the UK. Children and families growing up in poverty claiming they were neglected and ignored by a council that sat on millions of reserves in one of the richest areas of the UK. This disaster came on the back of various reports from respected agencies such as UNICEF that criticised the UK government’s failure to tackle child poverty that in recent years has grown to 30%.

Is this rise in inequality and poverty just a sad fact of life in a competitive global economy or can it be reversed? More importantly how does this rise in poverty and inequality impact on children who had no say in where they were born, who their parents were or the political decisions that will impact greatly on their life chances.

This timely, relevant, accessible book sets out to help early years practitioners understand more fully the context in which they operate and how they might build partnerships that help create an enabling environment for children and families to thrive in.

Section one gives an overview of the history and issues and in doing so highlights the shift in thinking away from a social view of poverty to one where “parents’ are seen as being chiefly responsible for their children’s situation. Yet research shows this is a narrow and misguided view and “ideology” often leads to poor decision making. Those in authority often do not seek to listen to or understand the families and communities they are seeking to “sort out” and so called “experts” promote one size fit all solutions so no surprise that many top down initiatives end up having little or no impact.

Section two of the book shows us what can be done when practitioners seek to understand and build relationships with the families and communities they work with. This “asset based community development” approach see’s parents and children as having a voice and being key players, they are not the problem they are the solution. It also recognizes the rich diversity of family life and cultures that children are growing up in which may be very far removed from the practitioners own experience.  Excellent practical chapters on “working with families”, “working in partnership” and “useful resources” should be standard reading for any early years practitioners. I know from my own recent experience it can sadly all too often be the case that frontline workers in underfunded services can buy into blame culture: “the parent never turns up”, “they have money for cigarettes” so this book could play a vital role in supporting these workers to “step back” and reflect on why this is, what are the barriers that might prevent parents from playing a more active role in their children’s education.

One small quibble increasingly the private sector has a significant role to play in combating inequality and poverty and I would hope a second edition of the book might include a chapter on how business can be pulled into to support early year’s approaches. My own organisation mobilises around 2000 business volunteers every year to support children and communities, so this is a significant area of possible partnership and support.

Examples of good practice are highlighted throughout the book and ‘reflective” questions help the reader place the material within their own life and practice context. I suspect the strength and real value of this book will be to help guide group discussions and to encourage practitioners to think about context, understanding, empathy, partnership and creativity. It would also I hope, make them realise that poverty and inequality are “social constructions” and anything that is socially constructed can be changed.


Kieran Breen

Kieran has spent last 30 years working in development in UK, Africa, Asia and Latin America for agencies such as Save the Children fund and VSO, he is currently the CEO of Leicestershire Cares.


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